“Auburn CA Poppies” by Allen Forrest, Oil on canvas
My brother, Mike, is getting solar panels installed in his house. All the materials are laid out on his front lawn. Workers on his roof pulling off shingles. I go inside and confront a small boy in overalls, holding a toy hammer, his cheeks tender and rosy like a picture-book child.
One of the workers couldn’t get a sitter, Mike says, coming up behind me with a cup of dry Cheerios for the kid. Mike works from home. He has three computers in his office, a stand-up desk with a treadmill. I’m afraid he’s going to ask me to stay and watch the kid, but I have things I need to do, funeral errands, like going to Walgreens to have prints made from the old pictures we’ll display, and getting Easter lilies for the chapel. Our brother Tom died a couple of days ago and his daughter requested these things, gave all of her dad’s siblings some tasks. We wanted to help any way we could. He is being cremated as we speak.
The boy sits on the kitchen floor with his Cheerios and his hammer and stares at me. I am suddenly, monstrously angry with this child just for being here.
And why must this be done today, I ask my brother. He sips his coffee. If I cancel it will be weeks before they can come back, he says.
I wonder how it’s possible that a living breathing person can be gripping your hand one day and be reduced to a pile of ashes the next. We all stood around his bed at the hospice, my other brothers and I, and Tom grabbed hold of my hand and gripped it hard enough to hurt. He was smiling, had a gleam in his eye.
Mike said, you’ve still got it, bro. Tom had been a quarterback, a state wrestling champion. My dad used to have the boys squeeze tennis balls while they watched tv. Grip was important. The difference between winning and losing.
Tom had stopped talking the day before. Was given no more fluids per the protocol. Massive amounts of morphine and anti-seizure meds were being pumped into his body, but he gripped my hand like he did those tennis balls of his youth.
Take it easy, you’ll break her hand, my brother Steve said. We all laughed. This was one of those good moments from the last few days. There’d been others. When Tom’s ex-wife leaned in close to him, smiling, and he wrapped his arms around her. When the college buddy showed up, had driven all the way from Texas and sat next to Tom telling all the old, wild stories. The fight they got into in a small town bar and the night they spent in jail there, being fed pork barbecue and corn on the cob and not wanting to leave. The stories made Tom laugh, albeit soundlessly. It was so good to see.
He finally let go of my hand and lay back and Steve dipped the tiny sponge on a stick into the bottle of Crown Royal and dabbed it on Tom’s lips and tongue. There, brother, he said, have some of the good stuff.
Kathy Fish‘s stories have appeared in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers(Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Guernica, Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly, Quick Fiction, and elsewhere. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It, a second printing of which is available now from The Lit Pub. She has recently joined the faculty of the forthcoming Mile-High MFA at Regis University in Denver.
Read an interview with Kathy here.
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